May 29, 2007
Omega --- Students particularly enjoy this time of year when school ends for the summer. But some students don't want it to end, at one school in particular, because they don't want a beloved teacher to leave.
A little special attention given to struggling students can do wonders that can extend from generation to generation.
"They come here speaking no English", says Joann Marshall who works with Tift County's Migrant Education program.
The students were brought to a world where they have to step up quite fast to academically survive, where they need a helping hand that Joann freely gives.
"It's building relationships and treating them special because you know that they can learn. Its just a language problem," says Joann.
A problem solved with an extra benefit. "How to read; how to add and subtract, multiply and divide," says Nikki Cavazon, a fifth grader at Omega Elementary School.
Joann wore out a motor home going from school to school multiplying her efforts to help children of migrant works have a fighting chance at success in America. The school system will retire the mobile classroom that uses rocks to hold it in place. It hasn't cranked in three years, but the air conditioner works and it gives Joann a special place to teach.
Joann became much more than a teacher to students like Irma Martinez, now a medical assistant.
"She provided us with clothing and school supplies. She would take us out to the store and let us choose our own clothes for school," says Irma, as if the graciousness happened yesterday.
Her son attends the same school that Irma attended. Migrant workers and their families come with little more than the clothes on their backs, but Joann was there to help as a teacher in the Migrant Education program.
She spent 20 years as a classroom teacher, responsible for 35 first graders. When the migrant education project started, she wanted to give it a try.
It was a natural fit. "One-on-one is the key," says Joann.
She has exceptional patience, providing a stable educational environment in the unstable world of migrant farm families. "Some teachers I've had for two years or one. Had her for six years," says Maria Gachuz.
But, no longer. After 31 years Joann decided she must move on. "I have mixed emotions about retiring," says Joann.
On her last teaching day, her last class, Joann threw her own goodbye party, a party some of her students didn't want to attend.
"I've had her for a long time and she should stay with us," says Maria.
It was a sad occasion for the students. "I'm going to miss her a lot," says Reina Balderas.
Joann Marshall put her mind, body and soul into helping the less fortunate students forced to follow their parents into a strange, new world. Luckily, they had her to help them adjust.
"She's a blessing sent from heaven," says Irma.
A blessing given to those who need it most.
Joann got some welcomed news on her last day as a teacher. Each one of her students passed a very important standardized test.